Mid-game, Brad Stevens talked to the team in the huddle about using the rest of the game to learn valuable information for the future. I’m going to say right up front that Brad’s much smarter than me and I’m sure he has a great process for situations like this. However, if it were me, I’d watch the first half with my coaching staff, take good notes on what the Wizards did differently, and promptly set the game film on fire. (Ok, in this digital age that probably doesn’t make logistical sense, but you get the point.)
I’m sure there are some strategies that the Wizards employed (like swarming Isaiah Thomas to get the ball out of his hands), but when it boils down to it, the Celtics didn’t execute very well, and the Wizards caught fire. Washington went on a 22-0 run and the game hovered in the 20-25 point range for much of the night. Take away that run, and the game is pretty close. Of course, that’s like saying the Titanic was a pretty good ship if you take away the part where it sinks.
This is where I like to take a big step back and look at the big picture. The Celtics were up 2-0, headed to Washington. The Wizards had their backs against the wall (no pun intended) and were playing to keep their season alive. Their bench was a complete no-show in the first two games, but bench players generally play their best basketball at home.
The Celtics also have a maddening tendency to take their foot off the gas when they have a team down (usually it happens mid-game, but it applies to a series as well). Add it all up, and one can hardly be surprised that the Wizards came away with a win. Regardless of how many points they won the game by, it still only counts as one loss for the Celtics.
Now if you’ll permit me, I’m going to take another gargantuan step back and look at the even bigger picture.
The Celtics have already reached their floor. Think back to the preseason expectations. There was a range of projections for the Celtics, but the general consensus was 52 wins and winning at least one series in the playoffs. At the very least they’ve gone over on the win projection, checked off one round, and have played competitively in round 2. Context is everything and blowing a 2-game lead would be a bad look, but it would still be within the range of original expectations.
I need not remind you that the offseason will bring all sorts of opportunities to make this an even better team with an even brighter future. But that’s another post for another day. (The NBA Draft Lottery is less than 2 weeks away.)
Ok, enough steps back, let’s step forward again. The series is 2-1, and the Celtics need to make some adjustments. Brad Stevens has to figure out the starting lineup, but whoever is out there for the tip has to execute better in the first quarter. If the Wizards are going to take the ball out of Thomas’s hands, the rest of the Celtics have to make them pay, and Al Horford will be key to all of that.
Obviously the Celtics will have to keep their cool and not allow themselves to get baited into ejections and suspensions like Kelly Oubre did in game 3. If Oubre is suspended for game 3, that will only further weaken the Wizards’ bench. The Celtics can’t afford to lose key players like that.
I kind of doubt Bogdanovic is going to hit another 4 threes in the next game, but the Celtics clearly can’t lose track of him (and they need to exploit him as a mismatch on the other side of the court). The Celtics need to put a body on Gortat and scrap for more rebounds. And yes, they need to find a way to free up Thomas and let him go back to work. It isn’t like this is the first time a team has tried to game plan Thomas out of the equation. Brad and Isaiah will figure it out.
In short, the Celtics need to put this game in their rear-view mirror and take care of business in game 4. If they can accomplish that, then they’ll have a commanding 3-1 lead going forward and a great shot at advancing.